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May 14, 2009
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
Pre-Kindergarten Increases Academic Success for Students

As the United Way says, "Learning knows no boundaries; children begin a lifetime of learning from their earliest moments."

Quality pre-kindergarten programs encompass those "moments." I am a strong proponent of teaching children as early as is deemed beneficial to improve their potential for academic success.

Texas currently requires school districts to offer a half-day pre-k program if at least 15 children in the district are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, homeless, previous or current foster care participants, or from military families.

For the 2007-08 school year, 182,000 four-year-olds were enrolled in these programs, which is roughly 50 percent of the estimated 362,000 four-year-olds in the state. Although districts get state funding for the required half-day program, many offer full-day pre-k or expand eligibility to additional children, without sufficient funding. They must raise the money locally or obtain grants, such as the Texas Education Agency's Early Start Grant. Now revised rules are phasing out many previous recipients of the grant, while hundreds of districts that have never received the money will remain ineligible.

This legislative session, I am co-authoring a bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini and other fellow legislators--the House also introduced this proposal--that would provide state funds so districts can voluntarily expand pre-kindergarten programs to a full day for eligible four-year-olds.

Besides providing funding, the bill's intent is to require school districts to implement quality preschool standards that include class size ratios, highly qualified teachers, approved curriculum and school readiness components.

As we approach the end of the 81st Legislative Session, both bills are undergoing the normal process and both are meeting opposition from those who disagree that public preschool programs could greatly minimize, and in some cases eliminate, academic failure for many students who start out as full-day pre-kindergarteners. This is flawed thinking.

The 2009 report Leadership Matters: Governors’ Pre-K Budget Proposals FY10, by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center, reveals that these programs "prepare children to succeed in school, achieve higher levels of education, and become self-reliant citizens who earn more in adulthood and contribute to our national prosperity."

That is what our legislation wants to accomplish in Texas. Also requiring our districts to partner with local Head Start or licensed child care providers, our bill would promote collaboration and build on existing high-quality early childhood programs in our communities, avoiding the need for additional pre-k facilities in most cases. While the Early Start Grant would focus on low-performing pre-k programs, our legislation would fund districts that are prepared to offer a high-quality program on a full-day basis.

Texas would join the national trend. In its study, The State of Preschool 2008, the National Institute for Early Education Research noted that enrollment increased nationally by more than 108,000 children. Over 1.1 million children attended state-funded preschool education and 33 of the 38 states with state-funded programs increased enrollment. Funding for state pre-k from all reported sources exceeded $5.2 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion (23 percent) over the previous year.

However, the study also found that due to the economy and declining state revenues, "the immediate future of state-funded preschool is uncertain. In most states, expenditures on pre-k are entirely discretionary and therefore easier to cut than expenditures for K-12 education and other programs."

Unlike the Early Start Grant that provides professional development and technical assistance to low-scoring schools for three to five years, our legislation would provide permanent funding for districts ready to expand their programs permanently.

The future of our state demands that we expand, not cut, preschool education. A 2006 report by the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University indicates that every dollar invested in high-quality early education programs yields a return on investment of at least $3.50.

The anti-crime organization Fight Crime, Invest in Kids declared in 2008 that participation in high-quality pre-kindergarten increases high school graduation rates by as much as 44 percent. Research shows that, compared with half-day pre-k, full-day quality programs are a significant factor in closing the educational achievement gap.

Expanding enrollment and increasing the program to full-day, pre-kindergarten in Texas can save children from a lifetime of despair, poverty and even crime.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.